Your opinion of "Elysium" will likely hinge on your opinion about income inequality and how it relates to healthcare. If you happen to disagree that the future of capitalism will lead to a widening rift between upper and lower class, you are going to find this film highly unpalatable. "Elysium" drives this point home with a capital "E". But if you are willing to entertain the idea that the increase of have nots is a trend, "Elysium" is here to tell you that by 2154 Earth is going to turn into a toilet.
Our protagonist Max Da Costa (Matt Damon) is a man from a difficult past trying to make good by following the rules. Well, almost -- he's still a wise ass, particularly when it comes to being interrogated by the robots that enforce the law in a world teeming with crowded humanity. Once we see what Da Costa does for a living it's easy to see why; he BUILDS the same robots that oppress him. After mouthing off to a bot and getting his arm broken, Da Costa crosses paths with his old childhood flame, Frey (Alice Braga). Frey's daughter Matilda is dying of leukemia, but that's not enough to motivate Da Costa to risk his life to save her. And her salvation lies in a Stanford torus known as Elysium, where the rich live with robot servants and cure-all medbays that fix every conceivable ill.
A word about Elysium from Greek myth, an afterlife for demigods and heroes, from Pindar's Odes:
...the good receive a life free from toil, not scraping with the strength of their arms the earth, nor the water of the sea, for the sake of a poor sustenance. But in the presence of the honored gods, those who gladly kept their oaths enjoy a life without tears, while the others undergo a toil that is unbearable to look at.
The "toil that is unbearable to look at" is Earth. Da Costa finds himself irradiated in a blatant EHS violation that ensures he'll be dead in five days. With nothing to lose, he reconnects with former criminal employer Spider (Wagner Moura), a near unintelligible gangster with big plans. He regularly smuggles the desperate to Elysium so they get a chance at healing, but with Da Costa he has bigger plans: the kidnapping of an executive. Da Costa agrees on one condition. He wants to go after the CEO of the company where Da Costa was irradiated, CEO John Carlyle (William Fichtner). The catch is that Carlyle is in the midst of a coup against Elysium by Secretary of Defense Jessica Delacourt (Jodie Foster, sporting an odd French accent). When Da Costa ambushes Carlyle and downloads his brain, he picks up more than he bargained for, and thus a cat-and-mouse game enuses between Da Costa and sleeper agent Kruger (Sharlto Copley, nearly unintelligible with his accent). Kruger's chasing Da Costa, and Da Costa's chasing a dream, saddled by guilt that the love of his life's daughter will die soon if he doesn't do something.
And oh yeah, Da Costa wears an exoskeleton that has some Christ-like allegories if you squint at Damon when he stretches his arms out.
What ensues is a lot of shaky-cam combat in director Neill Blomkamp's trademark dirty sci-fi universe, the same backdrop that was so effective in "District 9." This is an ugly war in an ugly place, and "Elysium" doesn't have many nice things to say about just about everyone involved. But that's what makes it so compelling, and what makes the film worth watching. Yes, there's often some logic leaps between scenes, and the transition between scenes and sets seems to be so tenuous as to be nearly ethereal, but this message movie has an interesting tale to tell if we're willing to listen...cybernetics and gunfights not withstanding.
Want more? Subscribe to my column; follow me on Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, Twitter, and the web; buy my books: The Evolution of Fantasy Role-Playing Games, The Well of Stars, and Awfully Familiar. Become an Examiner and get paid to write today!